MLK Day not just for African-Americans, event organizers say

Tommy Baker

MLK Day isn’t just for African-Americans, local event organizers are stressing this year.

A white grand marshal will lead the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade Monday in Charleston.

Baker Motor Co. President Tommy Baker will be up in front in a Mercedes-Benz convertible.

Baker isn’t the first white grand marshal. Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley was grand marshal two years ago.

Baker was chosen to broaden the diversity of MLK Day, said Kathleen Rodgers, executive director of the YWCA of Greater Charleston, which organized the parade and numerous other events.

“We’re trying to move away from the mind set that the parade is just for African-Americans,” Rodgers said. “He is not the first white person but the first well-known business person. Diversity can be more than just what race you belong to.”

Baker, a Charleston native, said he was honored to be included.

“It’s not just for black people.” he said. “It’s one of the most significant holidays in our country. The privilege of them giving me this tells me that the relationships are coming closer together. It just makes me feel good, and it makes me proud of being a Charlestonian and part of this great day.”

Baker graduated from The Citadel in 1972, started Baker Motor Co. on Morrison Drive in 1988 and expanded his stable to include a wide range of models on Savannah Highway and a luxury pre-owned center east of the Cooper.

Mayor Joe Riley will walk beside him. Riley has been at the front of the parade since he took office almost 40 years ago. It’s his last MLK parade since his term ends this year, and he has said he will not seek re-election.

The MLK Business and Professional Breakfast Tuesday morning, of which Riley is honorary chairman, is also a picture of diversity. Carnival Corp. Chief Executive Officer Arnold Donald, an African-American, is the keynote speaker. The Joseph P. Riley Jr. Vision Award for model corporate citizenship will go to Trident Technical College President Mary Thornley and posthumously to College of Charleston President Emeritus Theodore S. Stern. Elizabeth Colbert-Busch and Anita Zucker will present the awards.

A rally in Marion Square on Monday afternoon will focus on a wide range of issues that affect all races. The MLK Day Rally for Peace and Justice starts at 2 p.m., and speakers will address Medicaid, unfair labor practices, the minimum wage, unions and equal rights for all Americans, according to Pastor Thomas Dixon of the Coalition, who organized the rally.

Organizers of a rally in Summerville on Monday night also stressed that King was about more than race.

“Reverend King’s accomplishments go far beyond his promotion of racial equality,” said Ethel D. Campbell, chair of the Dorchester County Democratic Party. “He promoted civil rights for everyone — women, the poor, the disabled. He promoted education, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, and family values and responsibility.”

The rally is also sponsored by the Summerville NAACP and starts at 6 p.m. in Hutchinson Square.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.